Friday, 11 September 2009

The third space

In his book "The Architecture of Happiness", Alain de Botton goes to some lengths to outline how we are different people in different spaces. He cites the example of a miserable experience in a crowded McDonalds in Victoria "The restaurant's true talent lay in the generation of anxiety".

Leaving the bedlam noise, he found himself outside Westminster Cathedral, and entered to avoid the rain. "Concepts that would have sounded demented 40 metres away, in the company of a party of Finnish teenagers and vats of frying oil, had succeeded - through a work of architecture - in acquiring supreme significance and majesty".

I'm working at the moment on developing interactives for a "third space" for a museum. Not a public gallery, and not a reading room, we are trying to develop a space where people can be themselves and still explore the collections digitally.

I hope this will mean conversation and coffee, parents and children, sofas and cellphones. So many spaces we engineer in cultural spaces are, by need or tradition, constraining. We become an unfamiliar person. The hushed whisper in a gallery, the frustrating peering at undersized labels.

In this third space good things can happen. I was in Cambridge again yesterday at the library. Mostly I go to the tea room, as it was pointed out to me a while ago "Oh, that's where all the real work gets done."

1 comment:

Owlfarmer said...

You're certainly on to something with the "third space" idea. I recently read an op/ed piece in the local newspaper by a high school girl who liked the fact that libraries are noisy these days, because she thought that being entertained was necessary to learning. Alas, she may be right. But an alternative space that would allow for quiet study by those of us who don't mind hearing ourselves think--and still provide a place for those who think "multi-tasking" can actually accomplish something meaningful--could well be a solution for many large libraries, and perhaps some smaller local libraries as well.

Turning the Pages software is a marvelous tool, by the way, and the more venues for it your company can develop, the better. For many of us, the ability to cross the pond and see a valuable book is almost negligible, much less gaining any kind of real access. But TTP is so good it makes me feel rather like a voyeur--being able, for example, to peek into Emma Darwin's cookery notes. It's also a terrific teaching tool, because I can show my students what illuminated manuscripts look like up close simply by accessing the BL site.